Team Handball News Collegiate Top 5 Poll (April 16, 2018)

College Nationals is next weekend at West Point, NY and the last poll before a champion is crowned on the court is out.  To no surprise, hosts Army are the unanimous #1 ranked team.  Earlier this month they took 2nd place in their annual tournament narrowly losing to top rated open club team NYAC in the final.  (Albeit a depleted NYAC as 4 members from that squad were playing with the U.S. National Team in Mexico.)

Ranked 2nd are Air Force and Virginia.  Air Force has played well in two recent tournaments in Phoenix and Los Angeles, taking 2nd in the LA tourney this past weekend.  Virginia has also had a solid year, but they slipped up on April 1st with an NHTL loss to Army’s 2nd Team 23-17.

Moving up to 4th Place is Ohio St which had a 4-1 record at the “Arnold Classic” tourney in March.  Their 21-19 victory over Illinois St is probably responsible for their leapfrogging of the Redbirds who slipped to 5th place.

Look out to Nationals

I haven’t seen seeding or pools for college nationals yet, but one can see a potential narrative.  With an 11 years in a row run of National Titles, plus hosting, Army is a huge favorite to repeat.  Air Force and Virginia are in theory the two teams that will fight to play them in the Final, but in reality another home team lurks as a dangerous opponent:  Army’s 2nd team (West Point Gold).  Ohio St is another potential team that could break through, but they’ll need to prove that their gaudy 9-0-4 record isn’t just due to beating up on weak opposition.  Illinois St would be another possible dark horse, but to a lack of funding they aren’t attending.

For sure, there’s one thing that nobody outside of the Cadet Corps wants to see and that is an all Army (West Point Black vs West Point Gold) Championship Final.  And, honestly I bet there’s probably more than a few cadets that probably don’t want to see an intrasquad match either.

Chat Me Up

I’ll be at West Point all day Saturday and Sunday.  Don’t hesitate to stop me and have a conversation about any handball topic.  I’m sure to have an opinion.

Proposed Collegiate Summer Camp for Coaches and Players

And, if you’re interested in taking your game to the next level be sure to let me know if you’re interested in attending a Collegiate Camp this summer at the Lifezone Handball Academy near Chicago.  Craig Rot and I are still formulating plans, but the intent is to help collegiate players and coaches raise their game for next season.  Tentative dates are 2-7 July.  Please let us know if you are interested by filling out this short survey:  Link

NORCA: Final Standings and Top Level Assessment

(Note: Puerto Rico is 3rd due to head to head victory over Mexico)

Canada and Puerto Rico secured victories on the final day of competition to secure 2nd and 3rd place respectively and to qualify for the Pan American Championships in Greenland.  Canada held off the U.S. for a 33-31 victory.  At one point in the second half the U.S. led 24-22, but Canada was able to rally and secure the victory.  Puerto Rico beat hosts Mexico 30-28.  Puerto Rico was able to control the tempo of the match, avoiding the helter skelter style of play Mexico prefers and was able to keep the crowd out of the game.  Cuba beat the Dominican Republic 40-20 in a game that had no bearing on qualification.

Top Level Assessment

Overall:  While this tournament was still technically an event under the old Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) in many respects it was the first ever event of the new North American & Caribbean Handball Confederation (NACHC).  With 6 nations participating, including an often absent Cuba, it felt like more of a Championship.  And, with 3 spots on the line for qualification to the Pan American Championships there was more to play for with real consequences.  I say this in that sometimes NORCA events have had 4 nations fighting for 3 spots.

The level of play is clearly a rung or two below South America, but was very competitive.  Really, as evidenced by the match scores there’s not a whole lot separating teams 2-6.  The largest margin of victory among the bottom 5 teams was 6 goals and even in those 2 contests the matches were closer than the score indicates.  2nd Place Canada squeaked out a 1 goal victory over 6th place Dominican Republic.  4th place Mexico played to 3 draws.  Yes, every team that played in that tournament can go home thinking they could have qualified if they had just done one or two things differently.

Going forward one can envision a competitive 8 Nation Championship.  Greenland, which didn’t participate because it’s hosting the Pan American Championship, might well have won the event.  Then add one more Caribbean team to round out the field.  Yes, a nice little tournament today and one that would get better as the nations further develop their programs.

Cuba:  This tournament provided a taste of what Cuba might have in terms of a national team.  I say a “taste” because I don’t think that Cuba did a very good job of integrating their professionals playing in Europe with their younger talent still on the island.  Still, they had talent to spare and that’s why despite inconsistent play they were the class of the field.

Canada:  A very workmanlike and consistent performance by the Canadian side resulted in their 2nd place finish.  Canada doesn’t have the most athletic team, but they are pretty solid technically and this paid dividends towards the end of several close matches.  They kept their cool and let their opponents make mistakes.  And, as anyone who follows handball knows that’s often the difference between 2 goal losses and 2 goal wins.

Puerto Rico:  Puerto Rico clearly wins the comeback award.  They started poorly with losses to Canada and Cuba.  Then played a draw to the Dominican Republic- the Dominican Republic’s only point in the tournament.  But, they still controlled their own destiny and had solid convincing wins against both the U.S. and Mexico to qualify.  They’ve got a couple of very talented players to build around.  And build they must as from what I observed they lack depth.

Mexico:  Mexico may have one of the best fast breaking teams in the tournament, but they lacked discipline in the half court game.  As the host nation, they surely will look upon three draws as all games they could have won.  And, all they needed to qualify was just 1 more point.

USA:  A disappointing finish for the U.S.  I’ll have more to say in a separate commentary

Dominican Republic:  The Dominican Republic certainly has some athletes, but was very inconsistent on offense and defense.  They show signs of promise, but need more match experience to get better.

Match Results

Tuesday April 3
Puerto Rico 27×31 Canada
United States 30×41 Cuba
Mexico 33×28 Dominican Republic

Wednesday April 4
Cuba 36×23 Puerto Rico
Dominican Republic 26×32 United States
Canada 26×26 Mexico

Thursday April 5
Puerto Rico 29×29 Dominican Republic
Canada 24×27 Cuba
Mexico 30×30 the United States

Saturday April 7
United States 28×34 Puerto Rico
Dominican Republic 21×22 Canada
Mexico 28×28 Cuba

Sunday April 8
United States 31x33vs Canada
Cuba 40×20 Dominican Republic
Puerto Rico 30×28 Mexico

NORCA Championship: Scenarios for the Final Day of Competition

Well, the U.S. had a very disappointing 34-28 loss vs Puerto Rico, but the good news is that they still have everything to play for when they meet arch rivals Canada today at 1:00 PM Eastern Time.  The U.S. even controls their own destiny in that a 5 goal victory would guarantee qualification for the Pan American Championships.  And, even a simple 1 goal victory may be all they need.  All in all, 4 teams will be fighting for 2 spots today and at the end of day we could have a 4 way tie for 2nd place.

Web Streaming: Link

Saturday’s Results
United States 28×34 Puerto Rico
Dominican Republic 21×22 Canada
Mexico 28×28 Cuba

Today’s Schedule (All Times Local/Central Time USA)

12:00 p.m. United States vs. Canada
2:00 p.m. Dominican Republic vs Cuba
4:00 p.m. Mexico vs. Puerto Rico

The Math

It’s funny how the math works out sometimes.  One might intuitively think that the outcome of the U.S. vs Canada match might have some impact on qualification scenarios for Mexico and Puerto Rico, but it doesn’t.  For Mexico and Puerto Rico the math is real simple:

  • If Mexico wins or the match is a draw, Mexico qualifies for the Pan American Championships; Puerto Rico is eliminated
  • If Puerto Rico wins, Puerto Rico qualifies, Mexico is eliminated

In other words, plain and simple, the Mexico vs Puerto Rico is a straight qualification match.  Those two teams could care less about the Canada vs U.S. match.

With the Canada vs U.S. match the math is a bit more complicated and qualification for the Pan American Games may hinge on the outcome of the Mexico vs Puerto Rico game to be played later in the day.

Scenarios

  • Canada wins or the match is a draw, Canada qualifies for the Pan American Championships.
  • If the U.S. wins by 1, 2, 3 or 4 goals Pan American Championship qualification hinges on the outcome of the Mexico vs Puerto Rico Match
    • If Mexico wins or the match is a draw, the U.S. qualifies and Canada is eliminated
    • If Puerto Rico wins, Canada qualifies and the U.S. is eliminated
  • If the U.S. wins by 5 goals or more, the U.S. qualifies and Canada is eliminated.

The underlying math behind the above scenarios relates to the numbers of teams involved in the possible tiebreakers.  The U.S. would win a tie breaker with just Canada on head to head competition.  Where it gets a bit complicated is in the situation where 4 nations end up level on 5 points.  (Yes, that would happen if the U.S. and Puerto Rico win)

If that were to happen the standings for head to head competition would look like this.

With the first tiebreaker being points, Puerto Rico qualifies and Mexico is eliminated.  The next tiebreaker is then Goal Differential in all games played among the 4 teams.  As you can see Canada is currently sitting on +4 and the U.S. is sitting on -6.  A five goal victory by the U.S. would have both teams level in GD at -1, at which point the next tiebreaker is Goals For (GF) which the U.S. would win.

A very key point:  You might think that once teams are eliminated in the tiebreaker that their results would then go away.  And, that the tiebreakers would restart.  That, however, is not the case.  And, don’t feel bad if you thought differently.  Former IHF Playing Rules and Referees Commission Chair has indicated that he’s had to explain this rule to National Team delegations on more than one occasion.

NORCA Standings: 4 Nation Fight for 2 Remaining Qualification Spots

Thursday’s matches did little to clear up the qualification picture.  Cuba, as expected beat Canada and have qualified for the Pan American Championships this June in Greenland.  With a win over Mexico today they will secure 1st place in the tourney.  Less expected, though was Cuba’s margin of victory, 27-24 which suggests that Canada may be the 2nd best side at the tourney.  Canada will qualify with wins in their next 2 matches against the Dominican Republic and the U.S., but there are also some scenarios where they can qualify with 1 win or 1 win and a draw.

The other two matches Thursday were both draws.  Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic played to a 29-29 draw which keeps both teams in the qualification picture.  Albeit, for the Dominican Republic it’s an uphill battle as they would need to upset Cuba on Sunday to have a chance of qualification.  For Puerto Rico, it’s a more feasible path as wins against the U.S. and Mexico would give them 5 points and depending on tiebreakers with other sides also finishing the tourney with 5 points could see them through to the next round

The U.S. and Mexico played to a 30-30 draw in a dramatic ending which saw Mexico score 4 goals in the last 90 seconds for the come from behind draw.  Mexico will now qualify with a win against either Cuba (today) or Puerto Rico on Sunday.  For the U.S. picking up 1 point for the draw gives them some leeway in their next 2 matches.  Winning both of their remaining matches guarantees that the U.S. will qualify, but there are still a number of scenarios where they could qualify with 1 win or 1 win and a draw. (Note: Mexico could still conceivably not qualify with just 1 win, but it would require that the USA-CAN finish with 6 points each.  Meaning they would have to play to a draw of 31 goals or higher)

Web Streaming: Link

Upcoming Schedule (All Times Local/Central Time USA)

Saturday April 7
2:00 p.m. United States vs. Puerto Rico
4:00 p.m. Dominican Republic vs Canada
6:00 p.m. Mexico vs. Cuba

Sunday April 8
12:00 p.m. United States vs. Canada
2:00 p.m. Dominican Republic vs Cuba
4:00 p.m. Mexico vs. Puerto Rico

Results

Tuesday April 3
Puerto Rico 27×31 Canada
United States 30×41 Cuba
Mexico 33×28 Dominican Republic

Wednesday April 4
Cuba 36×23 Puerto Rico
Dominican Republic 26×32 United States
Canada 26×26 Mexico

Thursday April 5
Puerto Rico 29×29 Dominican Republic
Canada 24×27 Cuba
Mexico 30×30 the United States

NORCA Standings (After Day 2): Pivotal USA-Mexico Match Tonight

Here’s what we know after 2 matches played by all teams:

  • Cuba with several professionals playing in Europe on their roster appears to be a notch or two above the remaining five teams.  While they are inconsistent at times they are likely to finish first with an unblemished record.
  • Mexico, Canada and the U.S. appear to be roughly on the same level.  As Canada and Mexico played to a 26-26 draw last night few should argue with that assessment.  The U.S. had a solid 32-26 win over the Dominican Republic, not unlike Mexico’s 33-28 victory over the same side on day 1.
  • The Dominican Republic and perhaps, Puerto Rico are a slight notch below Mexico, Canada and the U.S.  The Dominican Republic has not lost to both the U.S. and Mexico so they clearly have an uphill climb toward qualification.  Puerto Rico played Canada close and lost to Cuba, but their next 3 matches are all winnable so they are still in the hunt.  Either side, for sure is capable of beating any team other than Cuba.

Here’s what it means going forward:

  • With Cuba likely finishing first, the remaining teams are fighting for the 2nd and 3rd positions and qualification to the Pan American Championships.
  • The Mexico-Canada draw means that it’s less likely there will be a 3 way tie in the standings with the U.S., Mexico and Canada all level on points.  This means that the matches both of those teams play against the U.S. could be pivotal in terms of qualification for the Pan American Championships.  A win against the U.S. will likely put Mexico and/or Canada in 2nd place.
  • The U.S. is all but guaranteed qualification with wins over both Mexico and Canada (A likely 2nd place finish)
  • The U.S. will likely qualify with a win over either Canada or Mexico.  (A likely third place finish)
  • A big caveat:  the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are clearly capable of beating the U.S., Mexico or Canada.  And a slip up there by any of those sides will render the above math inaccurate.
  • Puerto Rico is still in the mix, but they will likely need to run the table with 3 straight wins over the Dominican Republic, U.S. and Mexico.  (Something they surely think they are capable of.)

Results and Remaining Schedule

All times Local or Central Time, USA

Tuesday April 3
Puerto Rico 27×31 Canada
United States 30×41 Cuba
Mexico 33×28 Dominican Republic

Wednesday April 4
Cuba 36×23 Puerto Rico
Dominican Republic 26×32 United States
Canada 26×26 Mexico

Thursday April 5
2:00 p.m. Puerto Rico vs Dominican Republic
4:00 p.m. Canada vs Cuba
6:00 p.m. Mexico vs the United States

Friday April 6
Rest day

Saturday April 7
2:00 p.m. United States vs. Puerto Rico
4:00 p.m. Dominican Republic vs Canada
6:00 p.m. Mexico vs. Cuba

Sunday April 8
12:00 p.m. United States vs. Canada
2:00 p.m. Dominican Republic vs Cuba
4:00 p.m. Mexico vs. Puerto Rico

Streaming LinkLink

(Note:  A new streaming link for the upcoming match usually appears about 15 minutes before each match.  The link also has on demand video of previously played matches.)

Worth checking out:  The last five minutes of the Mexico-Canada match.  In particular, the would be last goal that was apparently just a fraction of a second too late: Link

Team Handball News Collegiate Top 5 Poll (March, 17, 2018)

The latest collegiate poll is out and there’s been some slight shuffling in the rankings.  Army, despite having only played two matches (both losses to the DC Diplomats and Boston) since the last poll is still the top team in the county.

Virginia, however, has impressed enough voters to move ahead of Air Force for the 2nd place ranking.  They placed 4th in February at the Carolina Blue Cup, and have been playing competitively in the Northeast Team Handball League.  Meanwhile Air Force has not played a match since the last poll.

Illinois State maintained their 4th place position.  They’ve added 2 wins in the Windy City Series and placed 3rd at the Arnold Classic in Columbus, OH.  Moving into a tie for 5th place were Army’s 2nd team and North Carolina.  The Army 2nd team had a good showing at the Carolina Blue Cup where they finished 5th just behind 2nd ranked Virginia.  North Carolina’s rise to 5th is probably related to several close matches at the Carolina Blue Cup, including a 20-17 loss to tourney winner NYAC.

Ohio State dropped out of the poll, but this may be due to some voters not having the results for the Arnold Classic.  Ohio State finished 2nd in the tourney and beat 4th ranked Illinois State 21-19

2018 Pan American Beach Championships Schedule and Breakdown of USA Opponents

The 2018 Pan American Beach Championships start tomorrow in Oceanside, California.  Eight Men’s and Women’s teams will be competing and this event will also serve as qualification for the 2018 Beach Handball World Championships to be held in Kazan, Russia in July,

Schedule: Link
Note: Game times are Local Pacific Time
Thurs, Fri, Sat: CET-9 Hours
Sunday: CET-8 Hours (Daylight Savings Time Starts)

The format for both the Men’s and Women’s Tournaments will consist of group play followed by a knockout tourney.  All teams will advance to the knockout tourney, so group play will essentially be all about seeding for the knockout tourney.  And, as 4 slots will be awarded for the World Championships every team participating will have an opportunity to qualify for the World Championships in their quarterfinal match on Saturday Morning.

Breaking down the schedule further, each team will play a group match in 3 consecutive sessions (Thursday afternoon, Friday morning and Friday afternoon).   On Saturday morning the all important quarter finals will be played.  Winners and losers will then play in their respective semifinals on Saturday afternoon.  Final placing matchings will then take place on Sunday.

USA Men’s Bracket and Possible QF Opponents

The USA Men are grouped with Argentina, Mexico and Puerto Rico.  On paper, the U.S Men should win this group.  They are, after all the defending Pan American Champions.  Mexico and Puerto Rico did not participate in the 2016 Championships and Argentina placed 4th.  They should cruise to wins over Mexico and Puerto Rico and then face Argentina on Friday night for first place in the group.  Should that come to pass their likely QF foe will be either Trinidad & Tobago or Paraguay, with debutantes Trinidad & Tobago likely being the easier foe.

USA Women’s Bracket and Possible QF Opponents

The USA Women are grouped with Brazil, Argentina and Chile.  This group is no “walk in the park” for the U.S. as Brazil is one of the top teams in the world and Argentina is not far behind.  Indeed, just last summer these two teams played in the Final of the Beach Handball Tourney at the World Games.  In a Beach Handball match anything can happen, but the inexperienced U.S. Women will be hard pressed to knock off those two foes right out of the gate.  In all likelihood, the U.S. Women will meet Chile on Friday night for 3rd place in the Group.  Chile is also relatively new to the sport so one could anticipate this match being a tight one.  The loser would likely face a relatively strong Uruguay side in the QF while the winner would likely face Paraguay, a solid, but beatable team for a ticket to the World Championships

Streaming

Live streaming of matches should be available on the U.S. site at this link:  USATH Live

538 Website Uses Google Trends Data to Assess Curling Interest, So I Do the Same for Handball

Google Trends data on searches for “handball” in the U.S. since 2004.

One of my favorite websites, fivethirtyeight.com recently posted an article that immediately got my attention:

America Loves Curling, Until it Forgets about it for Four Years:  Link

It got my attention, because I’d just written a commentary which highlighted the exact same problem for team handball.  In the 538 article, the author, Neil Payne used Google Trends data to quantify just how much America forgets curling.  Google Trends is a tool in which you can plug in different search terms and get graphs as to how much search traffic that term gets comparatively over time.  No big surprise: Curling sees a massive spike in interest every February of an Olympics year.  And, a small surprise:  Curling’s interest spike is bigger than any other winter Olympic sport.  This was measured as a comparison of Google searches in Olympic months vs non-Olympic months.

It’s an interesting use of Google data so, if you know me, I had to do some of the same analysis for handball.  (And, oh what an interesting rabbit hole it is.)

First off, I quickly discovered the semantical mine field the sport’s name has in the U.S.  Another form of handball similar to racquetball is more popular in the U.S., but Google doesn’t seem to be capable of fully distinguishing between the two.  It’s possible to enter several different terms into the Google Trends engine:

  • Handball (search term)
  • Team Handball (search term)
  • Handball (sport)
  • American Handball (sport)

Further, you can compare the relative results of each term as well as results for individual countries or world-wide data.

For starters, I looked at U.S. internet searches for “handball” since 2004.

At first glance, it followed what I expected with sharp spikes in August of Olympic years.  But, then I noticed a significant spike in November of 2009 followed by a slight bulge in the data for the following months.  At first, I thought it might be some great article on handball in the mainstream press, but then it dawned on me:  It was my old friend Thierry Henry and his infamous “hand of frog” handball in a World Cup Qualification match vs Ireland. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLUxMRYJAso

This bulge appears in both the “handball” and “handball (sport)” search suggesting that Google can’t tell the difference between a search for the sport of handball vs a search for a soccer related handball.  Further, if one does a comparison of searches for “Handball (sport)” vs “American Handball (sport)” one will see handball kicking American handball’s butt.

As much as I would love for this to be an accurate comparison of the two sports popularity, there’s little to suggest that it has any basis in reality.  We’re making some serious inroads, but such a disparity just can’t be accurate.  For sure, I could see handball beating wall handball in searches, but not by a factor of 100 to 1.  No, the conclusion should be that Google Trend data for “handball” in the U.S. ends up being an aggregate of handball, wall handball and soccer handballs.  What does that mean then?  Well, it means that the Olympic spikes for handball searches in the U.S., big as they are, are actually even bigger than what the data shows.  That, the baseline hovering around 10 would probably be closer to 2 or 3 if Google could figure a way to take out wall handball and soccer handballs from its data.  The 538 article highlights that Curling has the biggest spike of winter sports with a relative spike of 80 when compared to non Olympic months.  For handball the data shows a gain of only around 60, but it’s probably at least 80, if not more for the reasons described.

Handball vs Other Sports

The 538 article also compares Curling to several other winter sports.  I did several comparison of handball vs other sports and here are a few charts.

Here’s handball compared to 2 other “lesser known” Olympic Team Sports.  Both Water Polo and Field Hockey see similar jumps and both are more well known in the U.S.  Field Hockey, since it’s an NCAA Women’s sport and a more commonly played high school sport has a higher baseline with more peaks and valleys.  You can do your own comparisons, but be forewarned if you put a popular sport like basketball or volleyball into the mix, the handball line will almost entirely morph into the zero line.

I decided to make myself feel a bit better about handball by seeing how well it would do against arguably the most obscure Olympic Sport, Modern Pentathlon.  And, handball wins that battle, but again we’d probably wouldn’t win by as much without wall handball and soccer handballs padding our numbers.

Finally, what about a Handball vs Curling comparison?

What does this comparison tell us with the gigantic Curling Winter Olympic spikes and our tiny little Handball Summer Olympic spikes?  Well, it shows how you much curling benefits from being in the Winter Olympics where there are fewer sports to compete against.  Seriously, what other explanation could there possibly be for handball losing to curling so soundly?  It really makes you wonder how much handball would “blow up” if it was staged during the Winter Olympics instead of the Summer Olympics.  With the NHL players gone handball might even have gotten better ratings than the hockey competition.  And, it would be so easy to make happen.  A whole month of professional club handball is already sacrificed every year (Men- December and Women- January) so the world’s best players would be readily available.  Think the Curling venue was a happening place with the South Korean Women playing for Gold.  Imagine what the crowd would have been like for handball?  We’ve highlighted the potential of a summer/winter switch before.

2010: Link

2012: Link

But, while it would make so much sense don’t expect the IOC to give up its snow and ice requirement for Winter Olympic sports any time soon.  There will be Nigerian bob sledding teams before that ever happens.

Who Should be on the USA Team Handball Board of Directors (Part 2):  A Gospel Spreader

Who should be on the USA Team Handball Board?: A Gospel Spreader: How about a media personality that’s already fallen in love with the sport? For consideration: Bill Simmons, Scott Van Pelt and Stefan Fatsis

In the coming year as many as 7 new directors will be elected/selected to serve on the USA Team Handball Board of Directors.  This series of commentaries will highlight some traits, skills and backgrounds that might be a good fit.  And, what the heck, even identify a few candidates by name.  Part One focused on candidates with wealth.  This part focuses on finding a Board Member who can help spread the good word.

The Underlying Problem to the Money Problem

In Part One of this series I stated matter of factly that USA Team Handball’s #1 problem was a lack of revenue.  While this is true statement it’s important to step back and ask why is there such a lack of revenue?  That seemingly simple question can be answered in a lot of different ways:

  • Because we have a small membership base.
  • Because we don’t have any major sponsors.
  • Because we have very limited revenue streams.
  • Because the USOC changed their grand funding philosophy towards medal winning sports.

All of those reasons for a lack of revenue are true, but I would argue that there is an underlying root problem that, if successfully addressed, will go a long way towards solving the revenue problem.

That root problem:  The Lack of Awareness; As in far too few people in the U.S. are even aware of the sport of handball.

I’ve addressed this problem in several commentaries.  These two commentaries from 2012 summarize the problem in detail:

  • Why weren’t the U.S. national teams at the London Olympics (Part 5): A lack of awareness and marketing: One in a million: The 312 real fans of team handball in the U.S.:  Link
  • Why weren’t the U.S. national teams at the London Olympics (Part 6): A lack of awareness and marketing:  The Catch-22 TV paradox:  Link

The cliff notes version:  Only about 5% of the American population even know the sport of handball exists and the lack of regular TV broadcasts really inhibits the likelihood of more Americans discovering the sport and becoming fans and players of it.

Solve the Awareness Problem and Revenue will Follow

If USA Team Handball were to successfully address this “lack of awareness” problem increases in revenue would undoubtedly follow.  This is because there would be more fans of the sport, making sponsorship more than just charitable giving.  This is because there would be more Federation members and players contributing to the membership revenue stream.  More players, in turn, would, over time, improve the player pool and the quality of our national teams.  Leading in turn to better performance on the court and more support from the USOC.  And, eventually to another revenue stream, networks paying for U.S. National Team matches.

We can debate just how much revenue will follow.  And, we can debate how long it will take for those trickle down dollars to follow.  But, there should be no debate as to the overarching interrelationship between the awareness and revenue problems.

The Awareness Problem will be Solved

I’ve written ad nauseam about this problem and the importance of regular TV broadcasts.  I’ve highlighted the problems with some of the networks that have acquired handball TV rights and the lack of emphasis U.S. Team Handball has placed on this issue.  I’ve looked longingly at how some other sports (soccer, rugby and lacrosse) have addressed and in some cases have solved their awareness problem.  And, I’ve looked at the changing landscape for sports distribution as digital web streaming continues to play an ever increasing role.  I’ve tried my best from my news/blog website to be a pied piper for this cause.

Overall, I’m convinced that it’s only a matter of time before this problem solves itself.  The sport of handball has a lot of challenges and handicaps, but its attractiveness as a televised sport is not one of them.  Handball is not very likely to become a top tier sport in the U.S., but it’s going to have a significant niche in the U.S. sports market.  And, due the wealth and overall population (326 million) of the U.S. such a niche is nothing to sneeze at.

It’s going to happen, sooner or later.  Even if absolutely nothing is done to address this problem it will solve itself.  But, why on Earth, shouldn’t we try to do some things to make it happen sooner?

Solving the Problem… Sooner

So, here’s where the Gospel Spreaders come in.  Every four years, like clockwork, handball in the U.S. gets a publicity blitz courtesy of the Olympics.  Print reporters, bloggers, TV and radio personalities get their first opportunity to see the sport and they fall in love with it.  They write odes to the sport, devote entire radio and TV segments to it and inevitably they discuss why the U.S. isn’t any good at such an American looking sport.  And, they come up with plenty of “interesting” conceptual ideas as to how the U.S. could become a world handball power. Their discussions while well intentioned and often entertaining are usually superficial and don’t fully appreciate how professional the sport is in Europe.  (Sorry, Lebron and a few other NBA players aren’t going to take handball gold at the Olympics anytime soon.)

And, like clockwork, after the Olympics are over the short lived interest in handball also recedes from consciousness until 4 years later there is another Olympics and the American handball cicadas come back out.

Here’s a greatest hits of some of the pieces that have been written over the years

  • 2008: Sean Gregory:  Hey, America, What About Handball?: Link
  • 2009: Stefan Fatsis: Team Handball Has It All, Except an American Interest: Link
  • 2012: Bill Simmons: The London Chronicles, Vol. 2: Handball! (Handball?) Handball!:  Link
  • 2016: Adam Kilgore: U.S. athletes run fast, jump high, throw hard — why are we so bad at handball?: Link

Nice stories, but, what if the U.S. could get one of those new handball converts to stay fully engaged with the sport?  To not disappear and instead use his media savvy to strategically keep the sport in the limelight.  To successfully lobby a quality TV network and/or some new media digital options to continue broadcasting handball with matches from Europe, U.S. National Team and domestic competitions.  In short, help craft and implement a plan to move the sport forward in the consciousness of the U.S.

While that board director would primarily address the awareness problem he/she would also get involved with other aspects of Federation operations.  And, while some might pooh-pooh the thought of having a media person on the board by virtue of their years of experiencing observing other sports they may very well have some insights and suggestions that are worth considering.

And, of course, that would be the pitch:  You’ve shown that you’re a big fan of this great sport.  We need your help in promoting this sport so that others will discover it.  We need your help in transforming it from an interesting curiosity every 4 years into a mainstream niche sport.  If we can do that our national teams can only get better.  Would you like to play a role in this turnaround?  Will you do this for your country?

Candidates for Gospel Spreader

Bill Simmons: For a number of reasons, Bill Simmons, is at the top of my list.  His article from London, as well as a short segment on his HBO TV show during the Rio Games, shows his affinity to the sport.  He’s also got a huge following with his BS Podcast, The Ringer website and 6M Twitter followers.  And, at the moment, he’s unaffiliated and essentially his own boss.  He could devote a few hours a week to handball and actually try to put some of his whimsical analysis on how “to make handball great again in America” into action.  Why one could even envision it as a thinking man’s documentary/reality TV show or podcast.  A real life laboratory taking place over several years and culminating with the 2016 Olympics

Scott Van Pelt:  During the 2012 Olympics, probably no media personality got more engaged with the sport of handball than ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt.  Entire nation wide radio segments devoted to Team Handball.  Absolutely unprecedented.  He even had somebody make him a USA Team Handball T-Shirt so he could wear it on the Radio/TV simulcast.   In the 6 years since his profile has increased and he’s arguably the most prominent sports anchor on America’s top sports network.  But, I haven’t heard a lick about handball from him since that brief shining moment 6 years ago.  Still, he’s someone to consider, especially if it could be coordinated with an IHF and/or EHF rights deal with ESPN

Stefan Fatsis:  No one has been more engaged in spreading the handball gospel than Stefan Fatsis, a reporter who has written for the Wall St Journal and the New York Times and has been an occasional correspondent on National Public Radio.  He wrote his first handball ode at the 2004 Olympics where he memorably asked French Coach Claude Onesta why the U.S. isn’t very good at handball. Onesta’s response: “As far as I am concerned, there are a lot of games at which the United States does not excel.”  He’s continued to write about the sport every time he gets a chance and routinely drops a handball reference on the weekly sports podcast, Hang Up and Listen.  Even did a podcast with me back in 2012 to get fired up for the Olympics.  In short, when it comes to handball he walks the walk and talks the talk.  His profile is nowhere near a Bill Simmons or a Scott Van Pelt, but maybe he’d try harder because he’d be more committed.

Others?:  I’m sure there’s no shortage of would be media personalities that could be considered.  Feel free to chime in with additional suggestions on the Team Handball News Facebook or Twitter pages.

Who Should be on the USA Team Handball Board of Directors (Part 1):  Billionaires and Millionaires

Who should be on the USA Team Handball Board?: How about this 1978 Empire State Games bronze medalist, player/coach, Bob Rich?

In the coming year as many as 7 new directors will be elected/selected to serve on the USA Team Handball Board of Directors.  This series of commentaries will highlight some traits, skills and backgrounds that might be a good fit.  And, what the heck, even identify a few candidates by name.  This first part will focus on candidates with the ability to contribute financial support and the expertise that comes along with it.

The Need

Anybody who follows team handball in the U.S. knows that the number one challenge the sport faces in this country is a distinct lack of revenue.  How big a need is it?  Consider this.  The most recent Form 990 tax disclosure form for USA Team Handball lists total yearly revenue as $347,825.  That’s not anywhere near the revenue that’s needed to run a sports federation in the U.S.  It’s a shoestring of a shoestring operation and it means that the U.S. can’t even pay to send its national teams to international competition let alone fund an austere residency program.  And, you can pretty much forget about starting any significant initiatives that might expand youth and collegiate program development.  Even salaries can’t be paid as the last Board Meeting Minutes highlight that the CEO forgave back pay and will likely take a salary cut.

This is why it’s often talked about finding Board Directors that can financially contribute to USA Team Handball.  This includes personal contributions as well as the capacity to solicit friends and business connections.  The most prominent example of this is former Board President, Dieter Esch who reportedly provided contributions in the mid 6 figures from 2008-2010.  Former Board President Harvey Schiller also made significant personal contributions and reportedly worked his connections as best he could to solicit more support for the Federation.  Other Board Members, including current Interim Board President, Bob Djokovich ($11,555 recently) have made contributions to help keep operations afloat.

Why Not Go Bigger?

But, maybe the need is so significant that USA Team Handball needs to think bigger.   Millionaires are nice, but billionaires are where it’s at.  Or, maybe perhaps 6 figure millionaires.  Individuals with the wherewithal and connections to provide an injection of around $2M/year for the next several years.  Maybe this is just really wishful thinking, but then again maybe not.

There’s a solid pitch that just might be bought by the right wealthy individual who likes sports and relishes a challenge.  Someone perhaps who’s thinking about spending 10’s or even 100’s of millions of dollars for a professional sports franchise.  That pitch goes like this:

Why not spend a smaller amount transforming a USA National team from a perennial loser into a world power?  Instead of spending millions of dollars on salaries for a handful of athletes why not spend millions of dollars on youth athletes, collegiate athletes, and a few professionals that make 5 figure salaries, not 7 and 8 figure salaries?  And, this is not just about you opening your wallet and writing a big check.  We need your experience, knowledge and skills to help build a plan to make it happen.  Can you?  Will you do this for your country?  Do you want to be with us 10 years from now in Los Angeles when Team USA steps on to the Olympic podium?

Well, I’m sold on that pitch.  Too bad, I don’t have the resources to write the big check.  But, something tells me that there is somebody out there with the resources that might be so inclined.   We just need to find them, get them to listen to the pitch, and reel them in.  Easier said than done, but here are a couple of by name possibilities to consider.

Bob Rich, the Retired Billionaire Team Handball Player/Coach

Every day, courtesy of Google, I get an email with news articles referencing the word, “handball.”  It’s an eclectic mix of articles that really reminds me where my favorite sport fits in the big scheme of things.  This is because half of the articles aren’t about the sport of handball.  They are either about, “wall handball”, or more likely the latest controversial handball call in a soccer match.  (Seriously, enough about Thierry Henry, Please!)

But, occasionally, I get a random article from an unusual source.  One such article was this one from the Buffalo News:

The Quiet Billionaire: Bob Rich is Still Buffalo’s Ultimate Booster: Link

“Meh,” I thought to myself this guy probably plays “wall handball” on occasion at the gym.  But, instead I was surprised to find out that this “quiet billionaire” actually played and coached a team handball squad at the 1978 Empire State Games.  The Empire State Games is kind of an Olympics for New York State and actually introduced quite a few people to the sport of handball back in the 1970s and 80s.  And, Bob Rich was one of those people.  In fact, a little internet searching dug up the fact that he’s quite enamored with the sport.

So much so, that he devoted an entire chapter to team handball in his book, “The Right Angle: Tales of A Sporting life.”  The chapter highlights his discovery of the sport, his efforts to put together a team from scratch in the Buffalo area, and his surprisingly good memory recalling details from matches played 30+ years ago.  Even has references to USA handball legend, Laszlo Jurak, who coached the Long Island team.

Google Books:  Link

Who is Bob Rich?  He is the majority owner of Rich Products, a frozen foods company.  According to Forbes, he is the 441st  richest person in the U.S. with a net worth of $5.52 billion dollars.  In addition to dabbling in handball, he owns the Buffalo Bisons AAA baseball team and two other minor league baseball teams.  He’s also on the Board of Directors for the Cleveland Clinic.  Might I suggest he would be a good addition to the USA Team Handball Board as well.

The Cuban-Nowitzki Combo

Further down the list of richest Americans is Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban at #564 with a net worth of $3.4B.  But, Cuban is surely one of the best known billionaires initially becoming famous with his vocal antics in support of his team and now with his regular participation on the TV show, Shark Tank.  He’s also shown a penchant for supporting other sports including rugby, which he played in college.  He even has a principal owner’s stake with a proposed Professional Futsal League which could due to the court size/goals similarity of the two sports have a natural affinity with handball.

Cuban, however, is a very busy guy.  When he’s not fully engaged with his NBA franchise he’s off doing something else.  Sure, handball could be added to his large portfolio, but maybe there’s a sidekick millionaire he’s friendly with that might be a better fit.  Someone who’s currently very busy, but that come May/June of this year might have a lot of spare time on his hands.

That someone, of course, is Dirk Nowitzki, one of the greatest basketball players of all time who is expected to retire at the end of the NBA season.  Nowitzki, who is German, reportedly plans to split time between Germany and the U.S. and has even talked about acquiring a U.S. passport.  And, Nowitzki is very familiar with team handball since his father Jorg, was a top player in his younger days.  Could Nowitzki be convinced to take a bit of his time to be an ambassador to the sport?  To convince his former employer to help take the sport another level in the U.S.?  Why not?  It’s certainly worth asking.

Others?

Bob Rich Jr., and the Cuban-Nowitzki combo are but two possibilities.  Surely, there are others.  The net should be cast far and wide with the key selling points that financial support and a willingness to help craft a strategy to transform the sport in this country are needed.  Call me crazy, but I think such a pitch just might work.

USA Team Handball Board of Directors:  Change is Coming

USA Team Handball Board of Directors President, Dr Harvey Schiller resigns. In all likelihood, more changes to the Board are coming in the near future.

This past Thursday (1 Feb) many in the U.S. handball community got a bit of a surprise in their inbox, in the form of a resignation letter from the now former USA Team Handball (USATH) Board of Directors (BoD) President, Dr. Harvey Schiller.  Dr. Schiller, easily the highest profile Board Director USATH has ever had thanked everyone for their support and noted that he believed it was “best to now bring in new leadership including capable board members to meet the challenges ahead.”  Board Member and 1984 Olympian Bob Djokovich has stepped in as the interim Board President for the next 60 days.

The surprises, however, did not stop there as the January 18 BoD Meeting Minutes that were also provided included a lengthy section highlighting upcoming Board elections.  I like to think that I’m a pretty sharp guy, but I’ll have to admit that I struggled to decipher all of the information contained.

Fortunately, I was able to get a hold of Mike Lenard on the phone in Korea where he is supporting the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.  We discussed the board minutes and the existing bylaws and he was able to clarify for me the upcoming election process.  From my perspective, here are the key points:

  • The underlying issue is the conflicting language regarding BoD terms and elections in the current federation bylaws. Mike has worked on a volunteer basis to update the bylaws to address these and other issues and it is still an ongoing effort.  4 Board Member seats are past due for an election and 3 others will be due for an election in the near future.
  • There are a number of ways that this current situation could be resolved, but the crux of the matter is that 7 of the 9 board members have been serving on the board longer than 4 years, the standard term length.   (The 2 Athlete Representative positions (David Thompson and Sarah Gascon) were recently elected and their terms will not expire until 2021.)
  • Mike Lenard proposed a couple of options and the one the board decided to have him further flesh out would be to have 3 elections as soon as possible (with 2 for new terms and 1 to replace Dr Schiller for the remainder of his term) and 4 elections later this year. He is now working on more detailed procedures that will then be provided to the board for a vote to incorporate in the By-laws.
  • The near term election will be for 3 Independent Board members and the election later this year will be for 3 Independent Board Members and 2 General Membership Board Members. (The seat formerly held by Dr Schiller will be elected both in the near term and later this year.)
  • The different board positions will be clearly identified in terms of their term length. It is also desired that terms be staggered with 4 or 5 board seats having their terms expire every 2 years.
  • Each class of Board Membership has a distinctly different electorate.
    • Athlete Representatives are elected by athletes who have represented the U.S. in international competition within the last ten years. (The exact requirements for this electorate may be tweaked)
    • General Membership Board Members are elected by members in good standing with USA Team Handball. This will likely be an election later this year similar to the one that was held in 2013 which saw the election of Jennie Choi and Attila Agoston to the Board.  The current by-laws indicate that only “athlete members” can run and vote in the election for this position, but it’s been proposed that this be modified to allow any member in good standing to run for the board.
    • Independent Board Members are “elected” by the Nominating & Governance Committee. This committee has 5 members and their responsibilities also include identifying and interviewing potential board members.  While it is technically an election in reality it is more likely to be a collaborative selection process by the committee.
  • The current members of the Nominating & Governance Committee are Tom Fitzgerald (Chair), Cindy Stringer and Dennis Berkholtz. The current BoD will need to confirm these members and add two new members.

So, that’s the “nuts and bolts”, as I see it, in terms of process that USA Team Handball will be using for the upcoming Board elections.  I should emphasize, though, that nothing has been formally approved yet by the Board.  As, I hear further developments I will post them.

Current USA Team Handball Board of Directors: Link

IHF Trophy Competitions to be Hosted by USA

2017 Pan American IHF Trophy Champs. The U.S. will get to host a Zone Tournament as they seek to re-claim the title in 2019.

The IHF has awarded hosting rights to the U.S. for both Youth and Jr IHF Trophy Competitions.  The tourneys will be staged simultaneously at the new Lifezone Team Handball Academy in West Dundee, Illinois from 7-13 May.   The Lifezone Team Handball Academy is the first handball program/facility devoted primarily to youth development in the U.S.

The IHF Trophy Competitions were established by the IHF to provide developing handball nations competitive matches in a formal setting.  The U.S. has been competitive in these tournaments, particularly on the Men’s side having won both the North American region and this past spring the Pan American title.

For the 2018-2019 cycle the IHF has expanded the program to include both “Youth” and “Jr” competitions.  The Jr competition will be limited to athletes 21 or younger (born in 1998) or later, while the Youth competition will be limited to athletes 19 or younger (born in 2000) or later.  (The age requirements are intended to match the 2nd year of the competition (2019))

The zones for the competition have also changed with the U.S. now competing vs Canada, Martinique, Barbados, Dominica, Barbados and Haiti.  Based on past tournament performance the pre-tournament favorites are the U.S., Canada and Martinique as the remaining nations are relative newcomers to the sport.

The other North American Zone includes Mexico, Puerto Rico and additional Caribbean nations.  There are also 2 South American zones and a definitive qualification format has yet to be announced.  Because of the proposed split to the Pan-American Region it’s possible that the North America and South America regions will have separate championships.  If that’s the case it’s possible that 2 nations from each of the North American Zones will advance to a continental championship with the winner of that tournament advancing to the Inter-Continental Championship.

The U.S. has several players from previous campaigns that will be available, but will need to find some replacements for several athletes on the Jr team that have aged out.  Tryouts are scheduled for San Francisco, Auburn and the Chicago area.  Athletes that can’t make the scheduled tryouts, including dual citizens living abroad, can also apply to participate.  More information is available at the USA Team Handball website.

The location of these tournaments at the Lifezone Team Handball Academy in West Dundee, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago) provides a great marketing and showcase opportunity for this new program.  Great credit for putting together a winning bid in a short period of time goes to the Academy’s Director, Craig Rot.

  • More information on the Lifezone Team Handball Academy: Link
  • USA Team Handball Announcement: Link
  • IHF Information on the IHF Trophy: Link

Inaugural Team Handball News Collegiate Top 5 Poll (Jan 2018)

The first ever “Team Handball News Collegiate Top 5 Poll” is out and to no one’s surprise Army (West Point) is the unanimous 1st place pick by all 9 voters.  In fact, having won 11 straight national titles it’s a pretty safe bet that they would have had been ranked #1 consistently since 2006 (when they lost to North Carolina) if the poll had been in existence.  Army is 2-0-0 in collegiate matches with wins over Air Force (26-22) and Virginia (20-16).  Overall, they’ve compiled a less impressive 5-0-6 record, but those 6 losses were to clubs either ranked in the Top 5 (Open Poll including non-collegiate clubs) or teams from Canada.  Army is also currently in 2nd place in the Northeast Team Handball League.

Ranked 2nd is Air Force, which as previously mentioned had a 4 goal loss to arch rival Army and has an overall 2-4 record.  In December they placed 4th at the Texas Cup in Dallas with respectable losses to Chicago Inter and SF Cal Heat.  Nipping at Air Force’s heels is Virginia, which has a 3-0-0 collegiate record with victories over James Madison (29-12), Army’s 2nd Team (22-21) and Carolina’s 2nd Team (25-10) to go along with their loss to top ranked Army.  Virginia’s overall record is 4-1-4 and they were the top placing collegiate team (3rd) at the Fall Tar Heel Tourney.

In 4th place is Illinois St which is 4-0-0 in collegiate play with victories over Cincinnati (17-16), Ohio St (17-16), Miami (OH) 26-21, and Ohio St’s 2nd Team (19-14).  Overall, though they are 4-0-4 and suffered heavy losses to Chicago Inter and Barrington, a team actually mostly composed of high schoolers.  Rounding out the top 5 is Ohio St which with a 5-0-4 mark has played the most collegiate games.  They won their own tournament, the Buckeye Fall Classic, but had a less than stellar performance at Miami (OH) Red Hawk Tourney.

USA Club (Match Results):  Link
USA Club (Ranking and Statistical Data): Link

Team Handball News Collegiate Poll Sponsorship

Bryan Cothorn will continue to organize all the statistical data and tabulate the poll votes, but after some minor wrangling I’ve convinced him to let Team Handball News sponsor the Collegiate Ranking.  Bryan will also be doing polls for the Men’s and Women’s clubs, but I’m choosing to take a special interest in the college poll and the college game in general.

There’s a couple of reasons for this. First, for college sports there’s quite a bit of tradition when it comes to polling.  With hundreds of colleges playing sports in a hodge podge patchwork of conferences nationwide a national poll, for better or worse, has often been the only way to gage where teams stand.  Indeed, for college football it was actually how the National Champion was determined until 1998. (An absolutely ridiculous method that has now been partially fixed) Polls are a college tradition and I’m glad to see that team handball is joining the pantheon of college sports with its very own poll.

The other reason is that I think the college game should get more attention in emphasis than it does currently in this country.  I highlighted some of the issues surrounding the college game in these commentaries.

CHARTING A WAY FORWARD FOR USA TEAM HANDBALL: OPTION 4:  UPGRADE AND EXPAND COLLEGIATE TEAM HANDBALL
Part 1: Background: Link
Part 2: Strategies to Implement: Link

In the coming weeks I’ll be following up with some additional thoughts on ways to improve the quality of play and provide greater publicity/exposure to the college game.